King Arthur Pendragon

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Magic-Users in D&D Basic

As I finish reading the Moldvay edition of the D&D basic rules, some things were readily apparent as differing from the Mentzer edition but none so striking as the magic-users spell usage. You see, people complain a lot that in the latter magic-users (henceforth, known as M-U) can only cast a spell per day, on their 1st level, even though they start with two spells in their spellbooks. However, in the Moldvay basic rules, a M-U starts with only ONE spell and can only cast that spell per day. Before I would consider the impact of this in play, I wanted to know the rational behind this. I could, obviously, house rule the whole thing and make it more like the Mentzer edition, but I'm the kind of guy that needs to know why something works the way it works before fiddling with it. I asked about this in the fine Dragonsfoot forums, where people are always ready to lend a hand in all things D&D / AD&D. You can read the actual discussion here.

Even if I couldn't understand why the rule was meant to be that way (perhaps someone can comment on it here), there were a lot of useful answers. Nothing like a fresh perspective to get the creative juices flowing. Of all the answers there, the one I liked best was this (and I will try it during my next session):

"To all the people who keep saying Mentzer D&D is virtually the same as Moldvay D&D, you've just hit upon the biggest difference. Yup, one spell. Read magic is a useful spell because it means magic-users can make use of scrolls. Out of mercy, if a starting magic-user has read magic, I'd let him start with a handful of scrolls of other spells. In Moldvay, you can't transcribe scrolls into your spellbook; they are just one-shot magic items."

This is a great idea! The M-U knows Read Magic as his first spell and carries with him some scrolls provided by the DM, which are already known to the mage (one assumes he used Read Magic to decipher them prior to the game). Now he can go around with a Read Magic and some prepared spells which he can cast as normal spells. Sure, they're scrolls and can only be used once, but I can provide extra scrolls as part of the treasure found in the dungeon. This might be a great deal of fun to the player without causing undue frustration for lack of spells. It's a house rule, nonetheless, but it makes perfect sense in this context. Will it work? I'll have to try it on my next session.


jogadorsonhador said...

Well, it depends on what M-U we are talking about, but, in pre-4E D&D, the wizard gets gimped in the early levels because he is overly powerful in the later ones, so much so that he can render the rest of the party useless or resolve a complicated quest with a snap of his fingers. I don't really like this "if you want to delay your fun, play a wizard!" idea.

Antonio said...

Instead 4e gimps magic-users AND all other classes in a (futile) attempt to make all of them balanced on the same ground, without recognising that, as D&D was originally designed, each class had different moments and situations to "shine," not only combat. So with 4e magic has nothing magical anymore, it becomes almost a technology, and the characters who didn't use magic previously, have abilities which border on the magical. If everybody is special, no one is special anymore. Apparently the 5e designers realised that this was not the paradigm on which D&D was originally built and will correct this problem.

RE: the Moldvay MU, I find it too limiting. The Mentzer MU is not vastly different in this respect, but at least he can extend his spellbook (BtB Moldvay MUs and Elves cannot know more spells than they can cast.) Even if the Mentzer MU starts with two spells instead of one, you can always give out some scrolls; I did it in many games, and it works reasonably well. Just be careful to not give too many scrolls which the MU may cast read magic on before adventuring, otherwise they simply work as memorised spells.

jogadorsonhador said...

One thing leads to another and we could end up talking about how to structure the session so that each different character that excels in different kinds of scenes can get enough spotlight time, or at least, a reason to be in the same session with the rest of the characters. Some people would say that only the DM can be responsible for that, while others would like the designers of the game to provide such structure. You've probably heard the stories about high level parties in which the rogue had to play a whole session by himself infiltrating the dungeon and disabling the traps, while the fighter and the wizard got to play in a following session to slay the monsters in the dungeon and defeat the evil dragon.

The authors of 4E subscribed to the common notion that D&D is about killing monsters and taking their stuff, so they created a rolepaying game of tactical combat in which every class gets to do something in the same encounter, sidestepping the need to provide some kind of playable framework in which different characters could have different scenes or the common "solution" of just handing this problem over to the DM.

Getting back to OD&D, it is reasonable to assume that a decent ammount of combat will occur in every other session and that, in early levels, the wizard will be a crossbowmen with a couple of spells and just a smidge of hit points, but that's ok, because later on he will be a god among men and will surely be able to reward his friends who helped him stay alive in his first adventures. However, that's not really a character that I would be interested in playing. Fun now, please.